Sour note at music college

by Keith Clarke

News that three visitors and two members of staff at the Royal Northern College of Music were hospitalized last week after eating dodgy salad only serves to confirm my suspicion that eating salad, like exercising, is a risky activity. A catering worker has been suspended after it came to light that the salad dressing, instead of boasting balsamic vinegar and fresh-pressed olive oil, contained that little used culinary ingredient, dishwasher liquid.

As the five stared at the ceiling of the Manchester Royal Infirmary, they may have contemplated the wisdom of salad-shunning musicians, like celebrated chanteuse Edit Piaf. After all, she was known worldwide for her great hit, Non, Je Ne Vinaigrette Rien.


It must have been a happy moment in Birmingham city council’s music library when hundreds of silent-movie scores were uncovered in a dusty corner. They include a theme tune used in early Charlie Chaplin films. It was written by Cyril Thorne, but of course Chaplin himself provided the music for many of his films, an aspect of the filmmaker that gets little attention. At the Ojai Festival three years ago, Modern Times was shown, with the Ojai Festival Orchestra playing Chaplin’s score live, and jolly good it was too.


It seems to be high season for artistic punch-ups. First we have Claudio Abbado and Hélène Grimaud displaying “artistic differences,” with the pianist walking out of this year’s Lucerne
Festival, then Gidon Kremer lets fly at the Verbier Festival for suggesting that he was pulling out for health reasons, rather than a dislike for self-aggrandizing artists looking to boost their careers through hype.

I like Kremer’s tell-it-like-it-is approach. In a business larded with PR spin, it is great to see someone stepping out of line from time to time. After all, despite all the platform smiles, working in music provokes strong feelings. It is usually conductors that create the most heat, as explained by one orchestral player outlining the difference between a bull and an orchestra: “A bull has the horns at the front and the asshole at the back…..”

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